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War By Other Means: An Examination of Clausewitz and Modern Terrorism

Clausewitz can help us to think about the historical evolution and present character of terrorism. A handful of scholars, notably M.L.R. Smith and Peter Neumann, have applied Clausewitzian ideas to terrorist campaigns. They show how his foundational idea of the “trinity”—composed of popular passion, military strategy, and political objectives—describes a terrorist cell just as readily as a conventional army or guerrilla outfit. As they describe it, terrorism is one option among many in the complex strategic environment of a decidedly weaker force struggling to “maximize its advantage vis-a-vis an opponent.” Here, Eric Fleury argues that terrorism is not merely one example of modern warfare among many that exhibits the continuing relevance of Clausewitz, but rather occupies a more fundamental role within his theory.

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Jimmy Carter, Commencement Address at Notre Dame University (May 1977)

In May 1977, the still comparably new-to-the-Presidency Jimmy Carter made his way to Notre Dame to give that spring’s commencement address.  He used the opportunity presented to him to chart before the new graduates and the American people as a whole his plan for the foreign policy of the United States during his presidency and well beyond.  The speech is best remembered for Carter’s assertion that his administration would be free of the “inordinate fear of communism” that had too long distorted American foreign policy.

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U.S. Marine Corps, Small Wars Manual (1940)

The American military and the U.S. Marine Corps in particular had been fighting and analyzing counterinsurgency operations decades before their boots marked the sands of the Middle East and South Asia. Sadly, many of the lessons from these experiences languished on the shelfs of war colleges even as they became vitally important in the field. A handful of forward thinking officers cried for their reconsideration and modernization, and these efforts ultimately led to The U.S. Army and Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual No. 3-24. However, long before General David Petraeus blended the wisdom of soldiers and scholars to produce his manual, an earlier effort already chronicled many of the central considerations for fighting against insurgencies. The Marine Corps Small Wars Manual, published in 1936 and updated in 1940, remains an important document for understanding the historical development of American counterinsurgency strategy and tactics.

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Polk, War Message to Congress (1846)

Although he was not the first to put his eyes on the territory west of the Louisiana Purchase, it was the presidency of James K. Polk (1845-1849) that put the finishing touches on the last major acquisition of new territory before the Civil War. A member of the Jacksonian-nationalist wing of the Democratic Party, Polk’s intentions were clear from the start—his famous campaign slogan, “54-40 or Fight!” indicated his intention to settle the status of the Oregon Territory with Great Britain on American terms. But even more famously associated with Polk is the Mexican-American War, and with it the acquisition of New Mexico and Upper California.

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Madison’s Examination of the British Doctrine

We cite Madison’s Examination as a classic of American strategy and diplomacy because it set the stage for one of the last, and in the end unsuccessful, efforts of the Jeffersonian Republicans to realize one of the principal goals of the Revolution in international affairs.  The Founders – including Adams’ father – had hoped that entrance of the United States into the Euro-Atlantic state system would bring about a new configuration of international power, one favorable to liberty and reformist domestic politics.  This more peaceful and republican world would be underwritten by norms of international behavior that followed an increasingly liberal law of nations. 

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Edward Mead Earle’s Critique of Spykman

Earle wrote a surprisingly negative review in the Political Science Quarterly (March 1943) of Nicholas Spykman's America's Strategy in World Politics: The United States and the Balance of Power (1942), which is generally considered to have been highly influential among the set of individuals who composed Makers of Modern Strategy. Earle "found Spykman's focus on a narrow concept of power as the sole basis of international affairs unpersuasive and out of line with American traditions.

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Thomas Paine’s Common Sense (1776)

Thomas Paine’s pamphlet, Common Sense, published in Philadelphia in January 1776, is properly recognized as a major turning point in the American Revolution.  Paine effectively publicized the basic argument that Patriots like John Adams and Richard Henry Lee had been making privately in the Continental Congress – that the cause of the

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Benjamin F. Tracy, Annual Report of the Secretary of the Navy (1889)

In March 1889, a hurricane destroyed or disabled three American warships in the Samoan harbor of Apia, where they had been deployed to support the United States in a political dispute with Britain and Germany over the status of the islands.   The accident left the United States without any effective naval force in the Pacific and revealed the weaknesses of the existing fleet, as the old warships had been unable to get to sea and ride out the storm.  Advocates of a more assertive American foreign policy, to be underwritten by an expanded modern navy, seized upon the incident.  A perfect political storm did seem to favor their cause.  The new President, Benjamin Harrison, was a big-navy advocate, and for the first time since 1875, the Republican Party enjoyed clear majorities in both Houses of Congress.  U.S. Navy Captain Alfred Thayer Mahan was completing his landmark book, The Influence of Sea Power Upon History: 1660-1783, and his arguments were already circulating among such influential and would-be influential figures as Theodore Roosevelt and Harrison’s Secretary of the Navy, Benjamin Franklin Tracy.

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William Gilpin, The Central Gold Region (1860)

William Gilpin, sometime U.S. Army officer, Western explorer, Mexican War veteran, friend of Andrew Jackson and Thomas Hart Benton, land speculator, and governor of the Colorado Territory (1861-1862), is sometimes accorded the title of America’s first geopolitician. In a series of articles and speeches, which were summarized in his best known publication, The Central Gold Region: The Grain, Pastoral and Gold Regions of North America (1860), Gilpin argued that the development of the interior of the continent, made possible in large part by a properly-sited transcontinental railroad, would create a new and dominant commercial line of communication between Europe and Asia. This would inaugurate a new era in human affairs focused around what would become the greatest civilization in history, the Republican Empire of North America.

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John C. Calhoun, Report on the Reduction of the Army (1820)

John C. Calhoun has gone down in American history as the great theorist of state rights, with the associated doctrines of nullification and the concurrent majority, qualifying him as the intellectual grandfather of secession and the Confederacy. But in his early public career, Calhoun was a staunch nationalist, a supporter of the War of 1812, and one of the Republic’s most distinguished Secretaries of War. Among his significant contributions to American statecraft was a Report on the Reduction of the Army, dated December 12, 1820.

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